Killing Joke @ KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton 8 August, 2019

30 years is a buggeringly long time for any musical act to keep itself from splitting or killing each other. With this in mind, how about 40? Not only this, but instead of spending those latter years doddering around playing occasional dates, or releasing underwhelming new crap with a soundalike singer and only one finger from the original lineup, how about having the very same lineup itself as the beginning and a whole chapter of celebrated albums and extensive tours? 

Such is the position industrial-punk-metal-dub-dance statesmen Killing Joke are now in. 

This smattering of extra dates are a very pleasant surprise indeed, as the ‘Joke completed a lengthy 40th anniversary victory-lap tour last year under the Laugh at Your Peril banner. It was a proper tour too, the likes of Southampton and Norwich getting a look-in (so no complaints about the slightly random nature of these shows then — by usual band-activity calculations, they could be forgiven for taking a long break and focusing on writing new material or putting out stuff from the vaults for the time being). 

The concept of the between-album show is always an interesting one — is it to keep the wheels turning and some money coming in? Is it to keep the machine oiled in advance of putting together new songs? Is it to give knackered hacks less to pontificate about within the framework of a gig review? More importantly, who cares — when the band are clattering admirably through the likes of Asteroid and an unexpected In Excelsis with an energy and gusto to shame and outmatch almost everyone else, there’s no time nor need to think: just pray you’ll make it through with one ear intact. 

Support comes by way of an excellent showing from dub-reggae-spoken word outfit Radical Dance Faction, who hold the attention for a good half-hour before the Joke arrive. 

Singer Jaz Coleman, looking like Alice Cooper fronting Slipknot but scary as a witchy GG Allin (minus the faecal-flinging fuckery), stalks the stage like he’s actually on a scalp-hunt — and going by the look in his eyes mid-song, might actually follow through with it. Remembering how Tool singer Maynard James Keenan famously once wrestled a stage-invader into a headlock, it doesn’t bear thinking about what Coleman might do. 

Whatever the weather, bassist Youth brings a more thuddingly upbeat counterpart to Geordie Walker (more on him later)’s stony-faced concentration, making for a doubly interesting pair to flank Jaz.

Talking about the music, however, is something stringsman Geordie Walker is apparently loathe to do. Famously of few words, he continues to remain statue-like on stage and almost visually melt into his amps. Instead, that fucking guitar sound speaks volumes for the man. Still wielding Gibson ES-295s, Walker’s singular guitar tone is still a marvel of heavy guitar music. Subtly developed over the man’s career, it is often sought-after and absolutely never, ever matched. 

Highlighting the world’s ever-approaching end is a recurring theme still facing off against the vision of a new civilisation in harmony with nature. Loose Cannon is one of a few songs that unexpectedly punched through the band’s historic back catalogue to reaffirm themselves on this tour and they fit in beautifully, tantalisingly leading me to believe that just about any old KJ song could be re-energised and brought back. 

Another is Labyrinth, more a deep cut than stone-cold classic but it absolutely slams, even if Jaz tones down part of the chorus. If anyone’s earned the right, however, it’s him — he spends the rest of the evening screaming blue murder and showing no signs of growing older disgracefully. Witness the chorus of Corporate Elect, a more modern inclusion — the aural equivalent of being hit by a rollercoaster.

Big Paul Ferguson remains the beating heart of all this, emitting kidney-puncturing beats and rounding out the original lineup. His own history with the band, like Youth’s, remains an entire other story — but was also part of the birth, and stands here now — shoulder to shoulder, until the end. 

The show isn’t without incident — Love Like Blood is conspicuously absent, there’s sound issues after the third song and no encore — but rather like The Aristocrats, the telling of the joke is the important bit, not the punchline. 

So, what next? While freezing both bollocks clean off outside the Oxford Academy last year, three quarters of the band are caught for pics and scribbles and I overhear Jaz telling one fan ‘Yeah, well we’ve got a lot ahead of us…’

Here’s to the next laugh.  

Photographer/Reviewer:  James Stokes

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